Does working from home create a better work-life balance?

More than four million Britons work from home – around 13.7% of the UK workforce. 

But working from home isn’t a walk in the park. There are just different distractions and attractions to be aware of.

Why work from home?

Some thrive on going into a workplace and wouldn’t be able to motivate themselves alone at home. The social interaction isn’t just about gossiping at the water cooler; it can be useful to bounce ideas off each other – not so easy if you’re sitting at home on your computer.

But there are advantages to working at home. You won’t miss commuting: it is tiring, expensive, time-wasting, ecologically-unsound and bad for your health (think of the bugs you pick up on a packed train). And working from home can mean a better work-life balance: if you’ve got children, you can work while they are at nursery school or asleep. Without distractions from work colleagues, you may also find you are more productive: that’s good news for your employer. But don’t cut yourself off completely: daily phone calls to the office might be a good idea or schedule weekly meetings. Human contact is better than relying on email.

Home sweet home worker?

Research from Acas, the mediation body for employment issues, found employees who work from home tend to be happier than those who work in the office.  Acas has a guide to working from home online.  It advises that while homeworking can seem a good idea, “it will not suit everyone. A homeworker needs to be able to cope with working on their own with little supervision”.

David Mollard has worked from home as a self-employed bookkeeper for four years. “Adjusting to what is effectively lone working did take time” he says. “But working from home has many beneficial attributes if you manage it well. You can work when it suits you within reason. However you need to be disciplined: you may have the ability to work when and where you want, but make sure you get the work done – don’t put it off until tomorrow”.

Do it yourself

Many of those working from home are freelance and have lots of freedom in when they work, but with the flipside of no paid holidays and possibly a precarious income.

If you want to remain an employee and work from home (even if only for a few days a week) you will need to make a good case to your employer. If you’ve got children aged under six then your employer must consider a request for flexible working – but that doesn’t mean they have to allow you to work from home. It simply may not be practical or possible.

Don’t think that working from home is the same as flexi-time. Your employer may want you to work set hours: if they do, then you must keep to them (that means not starting late – or indeed, finishing late). You will also need to make sure you have suitable equipment. Having a good broadband connection will be important for many.

If you’re a freelance and can’t call on your employer’s IT department for help, then you’ll need a back-up plan if your technology lets you down.

Balancing work and home life

Where do you work from? A dedicated office will be easier than if you have to clear a space on the kitchen table for your laptop. Recent OnePoll research completed for the heating control specialists Drayton found that 36% of those working from home use their living rooms with 26% having home offices – and 10% work from their bedrooms.

The Drayton research found that nearly two-thirds of home workers have the television on while 25% have music on in the background. The answer is that to work effectively from home you have to behave (almost) as if you were in the office. That means not online shopping when you should be working and not living in your pyjamas.

Mollard works from a bedroom converted into an office. “In there I can close the door, creating the work environment to keep me focussed and allow my wife to do what she wants or needs to do in the house without worrying or disturbing me. A further part of that psychology is to dress with some modicum of decency: not a shirt and tie but what I consider smart casual”.

If you do have to work from the kitchen table, then at least make sure you clear it of everything not related to work before you start – and when you’ve finished work, put your work stuff away. One problem with working from home can be that you don’t take breaks – so make time for a lunch break away from your desk. Ideally get out into the fresh air: you’ll work better after: how much healthier is that than eating a sandwich at your desk in an overheated office?

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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